Reassessing the role of links in SEO: What data tells us - As Featured On Search Engine Land
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The value of links in SEO has been a hot topic for years. Recently, Google's Gary Illyes reignited the debate, stating that people often overvalue links, emphasizing they haven't been among the top three ranking factors for a while.
Intrigued by this statement, I embarked on a research journey, analyzing 100 random keywords across various industries. This investigation covered the top 100 ranking websites for these keywords, accumulating a dataset of over 10,000 URL ranking data rows.
Key Findings from the Data Analysis:
- Contrary to widespread belief, there wasn't a high correlation between the number of backlinks and ranking.
- The highest correlation between links and rankings was observed in the "Outdoor and Sports" and "Health and Wellness" categories. Interestingly, links seemed to reduce the ranking for "Home and Kitchen" and "Ecommerce and Online Services".
- On an individual keyword level, “fisherman beanie” and “oat milk” had the highest correlation, while “MLB fitted hats” and “acrylic nails” had the least.
Three Key Takeaways for Your SEO Strategy:
1. Links Reflect User Value: Even if links aren't the ultimate ranking factor, they indicate user appreciation. A surge in links for specific content or products signals endorsement and should guide your content creation and promotional efforts.
2. Always Analyze Your Data: While my dataset is expansive, it's crucial to assess your own brand-specific data. This not only helps you understand your competition better but also provides valuable insights to refine your SEO strategy.
3. User Experience is Paramount: SEO's core objective remains the same - improving rankings. However, the focus has shifted more towards offering an excellent user experience, as emphasized by Google's E-E-A-T framework (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness).
While links still play a role in SEO, they aren't the sole determinant of success. With the advent of advanced technologies like large language models, the dynamics of link values and website visibility may evolve. As we navigate this ever-changing world of search, data remains our guiding star, helping us understand the ever-evolving role of links in SEO.
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